LeBre­ton’s war of words heats up

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Tu­mul­tuous back­room bar­gain­ing over fund­ing a Na­tional Hockey League arena on LeBre­ton Flats spilled into the pub­lic on Wed­nes­day, with Mayor Jim Wat­son say­ing the Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors wanted prop­erty tax­pay­ers to pay for con­struc­tion and the hockey club main­tain­ing it never de­manded that the city build a sports fa­cil­ity.An­swer­ing re­porters ques­tions af­ter a coun­cil meet­ing, Wat­son said the hockey club made the re­quest in ini­tial dis­cus­sions with city staff, right af­ter Ren­dezVous LeBre­ton Group, the con­sor­tium led by the Sen­a­tors’ com­pany Cap­i­tal Sports Man­age­ment Inc. (CSMI) and Trin­ity De­vel­op­ments, won pre­ferred sta­tus in a de­vel­op­ment com­pe­ti­tion run by the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Com­mis­sion.The Sen­a­tors chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Ni­co­las Ruszkowski fired back, call­ing Wat­son’s com­ments “dis­ap­point­ing and in­ac­cu­rate.”“At city hall’s own urg­ing, the part­ners in (Ren­dezVous) took part in pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions that were char­ac­ter­ized as strictly ex­ploratory.“This was be­cause city hall had not yet re­ceived a man­date from coun­cil to of­fi­cially be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions with (Ren­dezVous) at the time,” Ruszkowski said in an email.“In that con­text, nu­mer­ous op­tions for the de­vel­op­ment of the site were dis­cussed; in­clud­ing, for in­stance, the adop­tion of Ed­mon­ton’s arena de­vel­op­ment model. When in­formed that this was im­pos­si­ble, (Ren­dezVous) moved on.“At no time did CSMI or Eu­gene Mel­nyk de­mand the city build an arena.”The mayor’s re­marks “sug­gest a dou­ble stan­dard,” Ruszkowski said, point­ing to the city’s de­vel­op­ment part­ner­ship with the Ot­tawa Sports and En­ter­tain­ment Group (OSEG) at Lans­downe Park.The city bor­rowed $154 mil­lion to ren­o­vate TD Place sta­dium, where OSEG is the chief ten­ant, and cre­ate the ur­ban park.OSEG, whose part­ner­ship in­cludes Trin­ity founder John Ruddy, “has had op­er­a­tional prob­lems,” Ruszkowski said, and he also pointed to re­ported is­sues with sta­dium con­struc­tion and busi­ness dis­putes.(The last up­date on the Lans­downe part­ner­ship pro­vided at city hall in mid-2017 re­vealed OSEG ended 2016 with a net loss of $14.4 mil­lion, af­ter reg­is­ter­ing a net loss of $12.6 mil­lion in 2015. The arena’s struc­tural steel was found to be heav­ily cor­roded dur­ing the Lans­downe re­de­vel­op­ment, and there was dam­age re­ported af­ter a con­cert held there in 2016.)Wat­son later re­buffed Ruszkowski’s crit­i­cisms in a sep­a­rate in­ter­view with this news­pa­per.“It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent sce­nario,” Wat­son said.“We own Lans­downe. We don’t own LeBre­ton Flats. Of course we’re go­ing to part­ner to re­vi­tal­ize a city-owned as­set, and by the way, that has been a phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess in terms of at­ten­dance, job cre­ation and bring­ing life to Lans­downe Park, so I think it’s more of a dig against his part­ner, Mr. Ruddy, than any­thing else.”CSMI is su­ing Ruddy, Trin­ity com­pa­nies and Ren­dezVous pro­ject man­age­ment con­sul­tant Gra­ham Bird over the LeBre­ton Flats re­de­vel­op­ment and the Trin­ity-in­volved pro­ject at 900 Al­bert St.In the in­ter­view, Wat­son said the Sen­a­tors wanted even more things for free from city hall, in­clud­ing free de­vel­op­ment charges and free prop­erty taxes.The Sen­a­tors also didn’t want to in­clude a ticket levy for tran­sit, sim­i­lar to what ticket hold­ers for Red­blacks games pay, ac­cord­ing to Wat­son.Wat­son liked that Ruszkowski brought up the Ed­mon­ton sce­nario, in which the mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment paid mil­lions for an arena de­vel­op­ment.“The very fact that he’s ad­mit­ting they wanted to fol­low the Ed­mon­ton model, which was heavy sub­si­diza­tion by a city, is the proof that was their open­ing bid,” Wat­son said.Wat­son has main­tained since the be­gin­ning of the LeBre­ton Flats process that prop­erty-tax money shouldn’t fund the con­struc­tion of an arena for the NHL.There are le­git­i­mate mu­nic­i­pal ex­penses when it comes to the pub­lic realm, such as streets and side­walks, but not an arena, Wat­son said.Wat­son for the first time ad­dressed the fall­out from CSMI’s law­suit, which al­leges Ruddy and Bird used the LeBre­ton Flats de­vel­op­ment to bol­ster the fu­ture Trin­ity-led 65-storey com­plex at 900 Al­bert St. across from LeBre­ton Flats.Ruddy and Bird have de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, which haven’t been tested in court.Wat­son isn’t named as a de­fen­dant in the law­suit, but the state­ment of claim in­cludes a sec­tion al­leg­ing the mayor’s chief of staff, Serge Ar­pin, told CSMI that with­draw­ing from the LeBre­ton Flats re­de­vel­op­ment dur­ing the 2018 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion cam­paign would “sever” the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wat­son and Mel­nyk.Wat­son de­clined to com­ment on those al­le­ga­tions. He said he sees him­self as a me­di­a­tor to help make the LeBre­ton pro­ject hap­pen.The 41-page law­suit was filed last Fri­day af­ter the NCC board the pre­vi­ous day gave Ren­dezVous un­til the next board meet­ing in Jan­uary to re­solve the pri­vate con­sor­tium’s in­ter­nal bick­er­ing. Mel­nyk and Ruddy are the main part­ners in Ren­dezVous.Wat­son said he was “dis­ap­pointed” by the law­suit.“I think there was a lot of en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port for the re­vi­tal­iza­tion. The arena, the hous­ing, the re­tail, the LRT stops, all on one site,” Wat­son said.“My job is to con­tinue to work with the NCC, work with the Gov­ern­ment of Canada and the pri­vate sec­tor, to en­sure we don’t lose this once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity to re­vi­tal­ize that im­por­tant piece of land.”Wat­son, who sup­ports the Sen­a­tors mov­ing down­town, said he be­lieves he can work with Mel­nyk if the hockey club re­mains in the re­de­vel­op­ment pic­ture, although the mayor ac­knowl­edged it’s un­likely the NCC board will con­tinue with the cur­rent Ren­dezVous struc­ture.The mayor is a non-vot­ing mem­ber of the NCC board.Mel­nyk’s law­suit sug­gests the fu­ture sat­u­ra­tion of the hous­ing mar­ket around LeBre­ton Flats, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing the mas­sive 900 Al­bert pro­ject, would dam­age the vi­a­bil­ity of the re­de­vel­op­ment.Coun­cil ap­proved the de­vel­op­ment ap­pli­ca­tion for 900 Al­bert ear­lier this year.Ac­cord­ing to Wat­son, “there is more than am­ple space for com­pe­ti­tion” in the real es­tate mar­ket.Wat­son said plan­ning de­ci­sions made by coun­cil won’t be car­ried out, in some cases, for sev­eral years.“The thing I hear over and over again right now from the real es­tate agents that I speak to, and I go to their meet­ings and so on, and they have a pretty good sense what’s go­ing on in the real es­tate mar­ket, there is a clear short­age of prop­er­ties for sale,” Wat­son said.“It is a sell­ers’ mar­ket out there. The prices are go­ing up be­cause there’s a very small in­ven­tory on the mar­ket.”Wat­son said baby boomers are down­siz­ing and want to live in con­dos or apart­ments in the down­town area.

An artist’s ren­der­ing en­vi­sions the $3.5-bil­lion LeBre­ton Flats de­vel­op­ment pro­posal by Ren­dezVous Group, dubbed Il­lu­mi­NA­TION LeBre­ton.

From left: NCC chair Marc Sea­man, NCC CEO Mark Krist­man­son, Her­itage Min­is­ter Pablo Ro­driguez and Mayor Jim Wat­son lis­ten to speak­ers at the board of trade break­fast on Wed­nes­day.

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